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Improving Collaboration Between Inside and Outside Counsel in E-Discovery

Created on January 24, 2012

Anybody involved in e-discovery knows that it's a complicated, time-consuming process involving a coordination of resources from cross-functional teams inside and outside the enterprise. A lack of coordination between teams can lead to missed deadlines, budget overruns, lost evidence and even sanctions (see our recent post on the J-M Manufacturing vs. McDermott, Will & Emory case here)

In a recent webcast, Jessica Robinson, Sr. Firmwide Manager of eDiscovery resource management at Morrison Foerster and Chris Garber, eDiscovery Manager at Allergan shared their experiences as e-discovery project managers. Based on their different perspectives, they discussed how to overcome and improve everyday e-discovery communication and collaboration between inside and outside counsel. They offered the following advice:

Define the Project: It is difficult for two groups to work collaboratively on anything when the process isn't clearly defined. With its many moving parts and legal intricacies, e-discovery poses unique challenges. Some of the issues that should be thoroughly addressed between inside and outside discovery teams to adequately scope the project include:

  • Goals
  • Deadlines
  • Costs
  • Risks
  • Privilege Issues

Chris Garber explained how Allergan addresses this challenge, “We have the internal discovery team and external counsel talk about the case, we re-educate them on what we can do, we talk about keywords early on, and we talk about how the process is going to work so everyone is aware of how it's going to go." Jessica Robinson added that in her experience something as simple as terminology can prove to be a major source of problems. “When we're talking about all the different parties that touch e-discovery, it's good to have a workflow-driven approach that everybody understands that you can share with your team no matter what direction you're coming  from – inside, outside, vendor - so that everybody is referring to things the same way."

Assign an Internal and External Project Manager:  Poor communication is often the root of e-discovery mishaps between inside and outside counsel. As Robinson explained, communication goes beyond simply passing information between the client and law firm. “One of the biggest challenges is figuring out who does what and when. Communication from my standpoint means that not only are we talking to each other but that the right person is talking to the right person." She further explained that it helps to establish primary managers at both the law firm and the corporation driving the project, whose jobs it is to share and receive information, monitor progress and resolve issues that may arise. “Someone at the end of the day has to be accountable, and that's my role," said Garber. “Our team is so huge when you look at the inside team and outside team and you look at the cost of e-discovery today, someone has to manage it."

Leverage In-House Capabilities for Greater Efficiency:  The degree to which organizations can handle e-discovery responsibilities in-house varies greatly from company to company. Some companies don't have the resources or internal infrastructure to handle the complexity of e-discovery projects and, therefore, have external counsel and outside vendors take on a lion's share of the work.  Others go to great lengths to improve internal capabilities and bring as much of the e-discovery process in-house as possible. Both speakers cited a lack of knowledge by outside counsel on the capabilities of the in-house legal teams as a major source of inefficiency in e-discovery. Garber explained that Allergan has a large team devoted to e-discovery and has made significant investments to improve internal capabilities. She said a big part of her job involves informing outside counsel of what they can accomplish in-house and discussing how the internal team can help accelerate the efforts of outside counsel to maximize efficiency.

To learn more on Garber's and Robinson's perspectives on effective e-discovery project management, view the full webcast, Implementing Effective E-Discovery Workflows Between Inside & Outside Counsel, here.